Rebecca S. Richards
For much of human history, “femininity” and “masculinity” were unknown terms. But that does not mean that the concept of gender did not exist. Indeed, many societies in recorded history had conceptions of what it means to be a gendered person—most often noted in the binary of “man” and “woman”—but these conceptions were normative and perceived as intrinsic to human behavior and culture. Masculinity and femininity were naturalized concepts, assumed to be the ways in which men and women should act, look, or communicate.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars and activists noted that femininity and masculinity are social constructions of a gendered society, often denoting the ways in which people, objects, and practices conform to or transgress gendered expectations. Both terms are highly contingent upon the cultural, historical, and geopolitical locations in which they are used, meaning that they can only be accurately understood or defined for a given time or context; it is impossible to define either term in a universal manner. Femininity, as an articulated concept, has a longer history of being visible and enforced by communities. Masculinity, on the contrary, historically elided critique or visibility because its attributes were often the normative and prized values and characteristics of a given social context. However, feminist movements and intellectual projects have brought masculinity to light, showing the ways in which masculinity, just as much as femininity, is a learned and enforced way of viewing actions, people, and things.
In communication studies, current scholarship on masculinity and femininity examine how they circulate in a globalized world, picking up new definitions and often restructuring people’s lives. Even though both terms are abstractions with shifting definitions and applications, they create the conditions for people’s sense of identity and limit or enhance their ability to engage in communicative acts. Differently stated, while abstract concepts, they have material consequences. To understand how an abstract social construction creates material consequences, communication scholars have looked at several research locations where masculinity and femininity most obviously manifest, such as leadership and authority, media representations, rhetorical style and delivery, and interpersonal communications.
Quotations, something that a person says or writes that is then used by someone else in another setting, have long been a staple of news stories. Reporters use quotations—both direct and paraphrased—to document facts, opinions, and emotions from human and institutional sources. From a journalistic standpoint, quotations are beneficial because they add credibility to a news report and allow readers/viewers to consider the source of information when evaluating its usefulness. Quotations are also valued because they are seen as adding a “human” element to a news report by allowing sources to present information in their own words—thus providing an unfiltered first-person perspective that audiences may find more compelling and believable than a detached third-person summary. Research into the effects of news report quotations has documented what journalists long assumed: Quotations, especially direct quotes using the exact words of a speaker, draw the attention of news consumers and are often attended to in news stories more than statistical information. Studies show that the first-person perspective is considered both more vivid and more credible, a phenomenon that newspaper and website designers often capitalize on through the use of graphic elements such as the extracted quote. Quotations in news stories have also been found to serve as a powerful persuasive tool with the ability to influence perception of an issue even in the face of contradictory statistical information. This is especially true when the topic under consideration involves potential risk. Direct quotations from individuals who perceive high levels of risk in a situation can sway audience perceptions, regardless of whether the quoted risk assessments are supported by reality. The power of quotations remains strong in other forms of communication involving risk, such as public service, health-related, or promotional messages. The vivid, first-person nature of quotes draws the attention of audiences and makes the quoted information more likely to be remembered and to influence future judgments regarding the issue in question. This presents the message creator, whether it be a journalist or other type of communicator, with a powerful tool that should be constructed and deployed purposefully in an effort to leave audiences with an accurate perception of the topic under consideration.